LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 25, No.3 - Fall 1979
Editor of this issue: Jonas Zdanys
Copyright © 1979 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
It was the second week of June, 1940. The last free all-Baltic events were taking place in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. The Lithuanian writers Antanas Venclova and Antanas Rimydis came to the Baltic week held in Tallinn. Antanas Venclova brought me a gift from the poet Salomėja Neris, an exquisitely carved and richly ornamented Lithuanian cross, two feet high. Neris was no longer a Catholic activist, but it is interesting that she nonetheless selected a cross and not something else as a present. It is strange to think now that three weeks later, having been asked by the Soviet Legation in Kaunas to write an ode to Stalin, she complied and became a Communist propagandist.
It was on June 15, 1940, that Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Army. Antanas Venclova was still in Tallinn. He wanted to pay a courtesy call to the Lithuanian envoy Bronius Edmundas Dailidė. So we went together to the Lithuanian Legation and Mr. Dailidė told Mr. Venclova that a new pro-Soviet government had been established in Lithuania and that he, Mr. Venclova, had been appointed the new Minister of Education. Mr. Venclova was completely surprised and said convincingly: "But nobody has ever asked me to join the new government!" Later during the day Venclova received a message from Justas Paleckis, the new Soviet-modeled Prime Minister of Lithuania, who asked him to return to Kaunas. Venclova left for Kaunas in the evening. Whatever I have heard and read about him since has not been from himself. He did not protest his appointment as Minister of Education. On the contrary, he became subservient to the Soviets and died a very loyal Soviet functionary in 1971.
Thirty-seven years after the Baltic Week in Tallinn I met the son of Antanas Venclova, the poet and dissident Tomas Venclova. The old proverb says that the "revolution devours her children," but it now looks as if Stalin's children may devour the Soviet "revolution." (Of course, there was no such thing as the October "revolution." There was a Bolshevik coup d'etat mastered by the counter-revolutionary Lenin.) Tomas Venclova is one of those new men of civic courage. I was privileged to organize his lecture and the reading of his poetry in Yale University. They took place in the Spring of 1977 in the beautiful Sterling Memorial Lecture Hall and although it was recess time, the hall was full and many people were standing. It was a fine audience and some fifteen Yale University professors were present. Venclova spoke slowly and "sculpturally" in Russian and Olga Hasty was his fine translator. At the end of his talk he read in the manner of liturgical incantation one of his poems in Lithuanian* and also in a translation by Josif Brodsky into Russian. Venclova's success was considerable and the people did not want to leave the auditorium.
Tomas Venclova is a very introspective person. I am familiar with only some of his poetical work, but it appeals to me. It has a fine-grained "rhapsodic" quality and may be characterized by a term now used in art criticism, namely "atmospheric perspective," meaning the even distribution of all the elements in space. And there is a process of symbolization of the contents which distinguishes all true poetry. In our two-hour conversation before his lecture we agreed, I believe, on almost everything, including our literary preferences. I was happy to hear from him that he has a very high regard for the poetry of Henrikas Radauskas, whom I consider the master of Lithuanian poetry.
In Yale University
August 27, 1977
* Editor's Note: Venclova read "In Memory of the Poet. Variant"